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Lichfield  Gospels

Art and the English Bible
1611 - 2011

Report of the lecture given by Professor Michael Wheeler
MA PhD on November 23rd 2011

Despite his jest that it was a big challenge to keep a NADFAS audience awake after lunch, I think Michael Wheeler succeeded ably with his fascinating romp through the development of the written word and its association with art. The Bible, he was later to point out, is the basis of all literature.

Wycliffe bible After its first translation from Hebrew into Latin by St. Jerome, the Bible was painstakingly hand copied by monks. They would decorate the margins with illuminations, so called because the pages glistened when turned, this continued until in 1475 the Bible went into print.

In 1535 William Tyndale was arrested for secretly printing his own translation of the Bible into English, taken from both the Greek and Hebrew. Michael Wheeler pointed out to us how the slightest variation in the translation of a word could alter the meaning of the text and this was Tyndale's downfall as his translation was considered politically biased.
William Blake, "Job"
By 1611, ironically using much of Tyndale's work, scholars, instructed byJames I, had rewritten the Bible to be known as 'The King James Bible'.

After the Restoration of 1660, pictures were introduced to the Bible and by the end of the 18th century image and word had definitely come together. William Blake's engravings and Turner's illustrations of 'The Fifth Plague of Egypt' are fine examples of this time.

Turner, Fifth Plague of Egypt

Holman Hun:  Light of the World
As we sped on through art history, the text of The Bible was portrayed by artists in ever increasing expression and style. Artists and art critics, such as Ruskin, were truly absorbed in ways to translate the Bible and religious allegory. We looked in detail at the symbolism of Holman Hunt's 'The Hireling Shepherd' and 'The Light of the World'. David Robert's book 'The Holy Land' depicting where Our Saviour walked was another delightful example - both Roberts and Holman Hunt having travelled in the Holy Land extensively.

Spencer, Last Supper

Other artists our lecturer suggested were also well worth mentioning were Johann Overbeck, John Martin and of course, in the 20th Century, Sir Stanley Spencer.

Julie Rashbrooke

Our guest speaker for November 2011, Professor Michael Wheeler